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ON REFLECTION: Singer like no one else

ON REFLECTION: Singer like no one else

By Ricky Jordan | Mon, October 29, 2012 - 12:00 AM

It's not too late to say congratulations to Anthony Gabby Carter on the conferral of the prestigious honour of a Doctor of Letters degree from the University of the West Indies.

No one in the entertainment arena today is more deserving; and I say this with no apology since he has lived up to all the criteria of what one would consider an icon in his field.

His vocal ability sets him apart from the rest, for there is no local calypsonian I have seen who can explore his or her vocal range so thoroughly that an otherwise ordinary calypso can become almost operatic.

He has long had his pulse on the issues of the day as well, balancing serious national concerns with his propensity for fun; hence songs like Jack, Cadavers, Boots and Cou-Cou And Flying Fish.

And while Gabberts has apparently become “soft” on, and sometimes removed from, burning issues in recent years, I’ve been following his music before Pic-O-De-Crop and was therefore not totally blown away by the local kaiso watershed of the 1980s. For by that time, much of what several prima donnas were learning he had already made into an art.

He was not about kaiso formulas or clustering a bunch of news headlines together, adding a nifty turn of phrase here and there, and calling it a song. If Gabby sang about a mango tree, you could be sure that it would encompass thoroughly researched information on that tree, and his theme and perspective would be consistent.

And while he penned classics like West Indian Politician, Lord Nelson, Culture and Massa Day Done, he would set the dance floor on fire with Dr Cassandra and Gisela (Compañero) and leave you in stitches with Miss Barbados who, in his words, was “as Canadian as apple pie”.

Off the stage, too, you saw an amiable character who, after winning a heated verbal battle – and a physical one with a top kaiso analyst – would be ready to join the most lighthearted interaction.

Holding a grudge, as far as I know, is nowhere in Gabby’s vast repertoire. I remember one year when I was acutely critical of his compositions, he lashed back on CBC’s Festival Stage – so much so that people across this land could hardly converse with me without some reference to his scathing attack.

Yet shortly afterwards, Gabby told me an old lady had scolded him for “cussing your family”. Since then, he and I interact by greeting each other by exclaiming “family” – which is not far-fetched in tiny Barbados since he reminded me that one of his relatives, whom I knew from following local football, bore a striking resemblance to me.

I’ve also witnessed his selfless response on the kaiso stage. While resentment is virtually written on some faces, Gabby can be seen smiling and hugging rivals who would have said the worst things about him.

And it’s not that I’m forgetting his response to Kid Site or even his “donkey derby” comment; both were monumental faux pas. But hasn’t he too been the butt of so many jokes, verses, entire songs, about him “turning into a girl”,  being “bony”, and even being called “mad” and a “charlatan”?

Could that be why today he no longer needs to be fiery, acerbic or hard-core? After all, he has shared licks like fire and taken his share of blows as well. And to all this he once replied Well Done, a song which has inspired a whole younger generation of artistes.

In fact, any artiste with whom Gabby has worked bears the stamp of his influence; from Site to Blood, to Ian Webster.

And what about his folk repertoire, which includes Bajan Fishermen and the evergreen Bridgetown Market with its haunting end on the strength of a single word: guava?

I can say no more but “blessings on you, sir”.

Farewell to Rocky

His name didn't make headlines while he was alive, but Jeffrey Rock stood taller for my workmates and some of my family than some personalities who bestride the arenas of politics, business, sport and entertainment.

An apt description of him would simply be “Rocky was a good man”, for he would want no fuss or fanfare. Rock quietly did his job ferrying NATION staff across these fields and hills, while allowing some of us to benefit from his sage advice.

Drawing from the resources of his deep Christian faith, he somehow strengthened us with his words and made us feel better – even while he was ill.

That’s why I wish to thank Rock for his gentle nature, his kindness to my family, and for having gifted us with his presence.

• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION.

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